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Conversation #38– disrupt or die

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thCAM164QKAnyone worth their salt in product development knows that listening to customers through any and all means possible is the means to innovation. Wait a minute, anyone worth their salt in product development knows that listening to customers leads to a faster horse.

Deciding your own product choices within these varying perspectives is perhaps the seminal challenge in product development, tech products or otherwise. This truly is a tyranny of or, but one in which changing the rules of the game is the very objective.

In this discussion, which is such a common dialog in the halls of HBS as well tech companies everywhere it should probably be a numbered conversation (for this blog let’s call this Conversation #38 for shorthand—disrupt or die).

For a recent discussion about why it is so difficult for large companies to face changes in the marketplace, see this post Why Corporate Giants Fail to Change.

“Disrupt or die” or “disrupt and die”?

Failure to evolve a product as technologies change or as customer scenarios change is sure to lead to obsolescence or elimination from the marketplace. It is difficult to go a day in tech product development without hearing about technology disruption or “innovator’s dilemma”. The biggest fear we all have in tech is failing to keep up with the changing landscape of technologies and customers, and how those intersect.

At the same time, hopefully we all get to that lucky moment when our product is being used actively by customers who are paying. We’re in that feedback loop. We are improving the product, more is being sold, and we’re on a roll.

That’s when innovation over time looks like this:


In this case as time progresses the product improves in a fairly linear way. Listening to customers becomes a critical skill of the product team. Product improvements are touted as “listening to customers” and things seem to go well. This predictability is comforting for the business and for customers.

That is, until one day when needs change or perhaps in addition a new product from a competitor is released. Seemingly out of nowhere the great feedback loop we had looks like it won’t help. If we’re fortunate enough to be in tune to changing dynamics outside our core (and growing) customer base we have time to react and change our own product’s trajectory.

That’s when innovation looks like this:

New Product

This is a time when the market is receptive to a different point of view, and a different product — one that redefines, or reimagines, the category. Sometimes customers don’t even realize they are making a category choice, but all of a sudden they are working differently. People just have stuff to get done and find tools that help.

We’re faced with what seems like an obvious choice—adjust the product feature set and focus to keep up with the new needs of customers. Failing to do so risks losing out on new sales, depth usage, or even marginalization. Of course features/capabilities is a long list that can include price, performance, battery life, reliability, simplicity, APIs, different integration points or service connections, and any other attributes that might be used by a new entrant to deliver a unique point of view around a similar scenario.

Many folks will be quick to point out that such is only the case if a new product is a “substitute” for the product people are newly excited about. There is truth to this. But there is also a reality shown time and time again which gets to the heart of tech bets. It is almost always the case that a new product that is “adjacent” to your product has some elements of more expensive, more complex in some dimensions, less functional, or less than ideal. Then what seems like an obvious choice, which is to adjust your own product, quickly looks like a fool’s bet. Why would you chase an inferior product?  Why go after something that can’t really replace you?

The examples of this are too numerous to count. The iPhone famously sucked at making phone calls (a case where the category of “mobile phone” was under reinvention and making calls turned out to be less important). Solid State storage is famously more expensive and lower capacity than spindle drives (a case where the low power, light weight, small size are more valued in mobile devices). Of course tablets are famously unable to provide apps to replace some common professional PC experiences (a case where the value of mobility, all day battery life, always connected seem more valued than a set of platform capabilities). Even within a large organization we can see how limited feature set cloud storage products are being used actively by employees as “substitutes” for enterprise portals and file shares (a case where cross-organization sharing, available on the internet, and mobile access are more valued than the full enterprise feature set). The list goes on and on.

As product managers we all wish it was such a simple choice when we face these situations. Simply leapfrog the limited feature set product with some features on our profitable product. Unfortunately, not every new product that might compete with us is going to disrupt us. So in addition to facing the challenges of evolving the product, we also have to decide which competitors to go after. Often it takes several different attempts by competitive products to offer just enough in the way of new / different approaches to begin to impact an established product.

Consider for example of how much effort the Linux community put into desktop Linux. And while this was going on, Android and iOS were developed and offered a completely different approach that brings new scenarios to life. A good lesson is that usually a head-on alternative will quite often struggle and might even result in missing other disruptive technologies. Having a unique point of view is pretty important.

The reality of this situation is that it is only apparent in hindsight. While it is going on the changes are so small, the product features so minimal, and the base of the customers choosing a new path so narrow that you don’t realize what is going on. In fact, the new product is also on an incremental innovation path, having attained a small amount of traction, and that incremental innovation rapidly accumulates. There is a tipping point.

That is what makes acting during such a “crisis” so urgent. Since no one is first all the time (almost by definition when you’re the leader), deciding when and how to enter a space is the critical decision point. The irony is that the urgency to act comes at a time when it appears from the inside to be the least urgent.

Choosing to innovate means accepting the challenges

We’ve looked at the landscape and we’ve decided as a team that our own product needs to change course. There is a real risk that our product (business) will be marginalized by a new entry adjacent to us.

We get together and we come up with the features and design to go after these new scenarios and capabilities.

The challenge is that some of what we need to do involves changing course—this is by definition what is going on. You’re Apple and you decide that making phone calls is not the number 1 feature of your new mobile phone or your new tablet won’t run OS X apps. Those are product challenges. You also might face all sorts of challenges in pricing, positioning, and all the things that come from having a stable business model. For example, your competitor offers a free substitute for what you are selling.

The problem is your existing customers have become conditioned to expect improvements along the path we were traveling together. Worse, they are by definition not expecting an “different” product in lieu of a new version of their favorite product. These customers have built up not just expectations, but workflows, extensions, and whole jobs around your product.

But this is not about your existing and best customers, no matter how many, it is about the foundation of your product shifting and you’re seeing new customers use a new product or existing customers use your product less and less.

Moving forward the product gets built and it is time to get it into market for some testing or maybe you just release it.


All that work your marketing team has done over the years to establish what it means to “win” in the space that you were winning is now used against you. All the “criteria” you established against every competitor that came along are used to show that the new product is not a winning product. Except it is not winning in the old way. What you’ve done is become your own worst enemy.

But even then, the new way appears to be the less than optimal way—more expensive, less features, more clicks, or simply not the same at doing things the product used to do.

The early adopters or influential users (that was an old term in the literature, “IEU” or sometimes “lead user”) are immediately taken aback by the change in direction. The workflows, keystroke memory, add-ins, and more are just not the same or no longer optimal–there’s no regard for the new scenarios or capabilities when the old ones are different. Worse, they project their views across all customer segments. “I can’t figure this out, so imagine how hard it will be for my parents” or “this will never be acceptable in the enterprise” are common refrains in tech.

This happens no matter who a product is geared towards or how complex the product was in the first place. It is not how it does anything but the change in how it did things people were familiar with. This could be in user experience, pricing, performance, platform requirements or more.

You’re clearly faced with a set of choices that just don’t look good. In Lean Startup, Eric Ries talks in detail about the transition from early users of a new product to a wider audience. In this context, what happens is that the early users expect (or tolerate) a very different set of features and have very different expectations about what is difficult or easy. His conclusion is that it is painful to make the transition, but at some point your learning is complete and it is time to restart the process of learning by focusing on the broader set of customers.

In evolving an existing product, the usage of a pre-release is going to look a lot like the usage of the current release. The telemetry proves this for you, just to make this an even more brutal challenge. In addition, because of the years of effort the enthusiasts put into doing things a certain way and all that work establishing criteria for how a product should work, the obvious thing to do when testing a new release is to try everything out the old release did and compare to the old product (the one you are changing course of) and then maybe some new stuff.  This looks a lot like what Eric describes for startups. For products in market, the moment is pretty much like the startup moment since your new product is sort of a startup, but for a new trajectory.

Remember what brought us here, two things:

  • The environment of usage or business around the product was changing and a bet was made that changes were material to the team. With enough activity in the market, someone will always argue that this change is different and the old and new will coexist and not cannibalize each other (tell that to PalmPilot owners who swore phones would be separate from calendar and contacts, or GPS makers who believe in stand-alone units, or…).
  • A reminder that if Henry Ford had asked customers what they wanted from a car they would have said a faster horse. The market was conditioned to ask for and/or expect improvements along a certain trajectory and no matter what you are changing that trajectory.

All the data is flowing in that shows the new product is not the old product on the old path. Not every customer is interested in doing new things, especially the influential testers who generally focus on the existing ways of doing things, have domain expertise, and are often the most connected to the existing product and all that it encompasses. There is an irony in that for tech these customers are also the most tech-savvy.

Pretty quickly, listening to customers is looking exceedingly difficult.

If you listen to customers (and vector back to the previous path in some way: undo, product modes, multiple products/SKUs, etc.) you will probably cede the market to the new entrants or at least give them more precious time. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare you will be roadkill in fairly short order as you lack a strategic response. There’s a good chance your influential customers will rejoice as they can go back and do what they always did.  You will then be left without an answer for what comes next for your declining usage patterns.

If you don’t listen to customers (and stick to your guns) you are going to “alienate” folks and cede the market to someone who listens. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare that your new product is not resonating with the core audience. Pundits will also declare that you are stubborn and not listening to customers.

All of this is monumentally difficult simply because you had a successful product. Such is the price of success. Disrupting is never easy, but it is easier if you have nothing to lose.

Many folks will be quick to say that new products are fine but they should just have the old product’s way of doing things. This can seem like asking for a Prius with a switch to turn off the battery (my 2002 Prius came with a training DVD, parking attendant reference card, and more!). There are many challenges with the “side by side” approach. The most apparent is that it only delays the change (meaning delays your entry into the new market or meeting of new scenarios). Perhaps in a world of cloud-services this is more routine where you have less of a “choice” in the change, but the operational costs are real. In client code/apps the challenge becomes very quickly doing things twice. The more complex the changes are the more costly this becomes. In software nothing is free.

Product development is a social science.

People and time

In this numbered conversation, “disrupt or die” there are a few factors that are not often discussed in detail when all the debates happen.

First, people adapt. The assumption, especially about complex tech products, is that people have difficulty or lack of desire to change. While you can always overshoot the learning people can or are willing to do, people are the most adaptable part of a system. One way to think about this is that every successful product in use today, those that we all take for granted, were introduced to a customer base that had to change behavior.  We would not be where we are today without changing and adapting.  If one reflects, the suboptimal change (whether for the people that are customers or the people running a business) is apparent with every transition we have made.  Even today’s tablets are evidence of this.  Some say they are still for “media consumption” and others say they are “productivity tools”.  But behind the scenes, people (and developers) are rapidly and actively changing and adapting to the capabilities of tablets because the value proposition is so significantly improved in some dimensions.

Second, time matters. Change is only relative to knowledge people have at a moment in time and the customers you have at the moment. New people are entering the customer base all the time and there is a renewal in skills, scenarios, and usage patterns. Five years ago almost no one used a touch screen for very much.  Today, touch is a universally accepted (and expected) input method.  The customer base has adapted and also renewed around touch.  Universities are the world’s experts at understanding this notion of renewal. They know that any change to policy at a university is met with student resistance (especially in the spring). They also know that next year, 25% of the “customer base” will be replaced. And in 3 summers all the students on campus will only know the new way. One could call that cynical. One could also call that practical.

Finally time means that major product change, disruption, is always a multi-step process. Whether you make a bet to build a new product that disrupts the market dynamics or change an existing product that disrupts your own product, it rarely happens in one step.  Phones added copy/paste and APIs and even got better at the basics.  The pivot is the tool of the new endeavor until there is some traction.  Feedback, refinement, and balancing the need to move to a new space with the need to satisfy the installed base are the tools of the established product “pivoting” in response to a changed world.  It takes time and iteration–just the same way it took time and iteration to get to the first summit.  Never lose sight of the fact that disrupting is also product development and all the challenges that come from that remain–just because you’re disrupting does not mean what you do will be perfect–but that’s a given we all work with all the time.  We always operate knowing there is more change to come, improvements and fixes, as we all to learn by shipping.

Part of these factors almost always demonstrate, at least in the medium term, that disruption is not synonymous with elimination.  Those championing disruption often over-estimate progress towards elimination in the short term.  Though history has shown the long term to be fairly predictable.  Black cars are still popular.  They just aren’t the only cars.

Product development choices are based on social science. There is never a right answer. Context is everything.  You cannot A/B test your way to big bets or decisions about technology disruption. That’s what makes all of this so fun!!

Go change the rules of the game!

–Steven Sinofsky

Note.  I believe “disrupt or die” is the name of a highly-regarded management class at General Electric’s management school.

Written by Steven Sinofsky

May 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm

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26 Responses

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    October 28, 2021 at 1:01 pm

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    April 25, 2014 at 2:04 pm

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    November 7, 2013 at 11:12 pm

  4. Such an imevsspire answer! You’ve beaten us all with that!


    August 5, 2013 at 11:46 pm

  5. Question: Why didn’t you mandate that Windows 8 be compatible with Windows Phone apps? As is, your response to Apple and Google’s disruptive technology has an unnecessarily anemic software ecosystem. And as a mobile app developer, there’s no way I’m going to port my software to Microsoft if I have to have separate versions for phones and tablets.


    June 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm

  6. This was surprisingly insightful. Regarding Windows, I think mobile has taken a big chunk of what used to be casual PC usage (Facebook, web browsing) but it can never overcome the productivity of a PC. So in this case, I think you just have to accept that something better came along that does a subset of what your product does.


    May 31, 2013 at 9:45 am

  7. There are 95% windows customers who use windows OS for productivity. There are 5% of windows customers who are also geeks and technology enthusiasts . While the nerdy 5% would will figure out 90% of windows 8 in few weeks.Rest of 95% of windows customers will whine, suffer, get irritated, feel helpless, cry for help, cuss, feel cheated for months and months.
    I could be one of many million customers who care less about windows care more about what can I do with it. If it confuses me more than it helps me no good , Period.

    This is not 1986 while I feel euphoric learning a new tiny irrelevant feature of a computer.
    I disagree with Ryan regarding what it says about our learning ability. If MS had any clue they would know they have been shaping our learning curve for last 20 years. All the more reason to not disrupt the customer.

    I broadly disagree with your definition of disruption . If I know even a tiny bit about selling stuff to people it sure means it is gonna make you happy and not miserable.

    After using windows for 12 years I moved away from windows after using windows 8 for 2 weeks.

    I still wonder till this day ..and go wow …did MS actually release this….

    NW Guy

    May 31, 2013 at 8:50 am

  8. There was absolutely no need for MS to (arrogantly, IMHO) force existing desktop users to use the new Windows 8 Metro start screen against their will, and take away the desktop Start button as well. All you had to do was, by default, boot to Metro start screen for touch users, boot to desktop for mouse users (with Start button), then allow the user to choose his/her own default, and switch back and forth if they want. That way, everyone is happy and everyone wins, with no loss of functionality in either camp.

    Darrell Pittman

    May 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

  9. Unfortunately the text talks only about absolutes and fails to qualify disruption.
    Disruption is not good unless the next paradigm is better than the former one. Sometimes a small incremental benefit is usually not enough, depends on investment needed to get that incremental benefit.

    If i just have to buy another wine to get a better wine at same price it is not much of a disruption. I have to remember that while i will go to the next buy. So a bit of brain CPU investment -remember while i am thinking of choosing another wine i am not using my brain to other things. If i am busy with lots of work – more stress- i might think that is not worthwhile to change to another wine because change is usually spending extra energy.
    There is also the case of change sometimes brings energy we don’t know we had, but that is not the usual occurrence and is not common in most people. People are different.

    People only learn or want to learn new way of doing things if they perceive that investment is beneficial, clearly improves their lives in the future. The threshold for that varies for people and cultures. There are still people that live like in pre-history. We just have to go to Brasil Amazonas, New Guinea or Borneo jungle.
    Every new step in technological evolution, excludes, but there is a big difference between something that excludes 90% and something that excludes 1%.


    May 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm

  10. Thank you for the depth and detail in this piece. I’ve been working through a multi-year journey trying to enumerate how to “disrupt and extend” very entrenched products from positioning, pricing, technology, and customer perspectives.

    Watching the changes incorporated in Fluent UX, new philosophies incorporated into MIX conferences (SketchFlow), and now Windows 8 Modern UX pundit hatorade that is being consumed everywhere, has a testament to what is transient vs. a market’s capability to adapt.

    The confirmation-bias narrative around “we can keep current customers happy and take orders” while you “disruptively innovate to keep market share” is a fairy tale paid lip-service by people who haven’t put pencil to paper to resolve that cognitive or market dissonance.

    Unless your product is actually made of unicorns and faeries.

    I hope you don’t mind if I quote this post a few times :)

  11. I think this really comes down to the fact that we all adapt to change at a different pace. Just like my kids I can’t teach them both the same way because they learn differently and at a different pace. My Dad who is in his 70s upgraded to Windows 8 on his own and loves it. My brother in-law who is much younger is having a hard time adapting to Windows 8. It can’t be a one size fits all.

    Microsoft and the team who worked on Windows 8 deserve a lot of credit for being innovative. Just the fact that the phone, OS and tablet all benefit from the same core is a huge achievement and can be a big strategic advantage.

    There are a lot of really impressive improvements in Windows 8. The speed of start up, resume, file copy, multi monitor support etc. Unfortunately a lot of this is over looked by some who want a more gradual rate of change.

    The economist called Windows 8 the “New Coke”. I say embrace it. Coke classic went on to be very successful and is now being displaced by Coke Zero. But this was a long process.

    [Coke Classic] Windows 8 Desktop Edition (or starter)
    For all those with $300 non touch laptops and desktop who want improvement but not big change. This will protect Microsoft from the cheap Chrome book market. Make this edition of Windows 8 a cheaper skew to stay competitive in the low end desktop market. I am sure the OEMs will be happy.

    [Coke Zero] Windows 8 Tablet Edition (or Windows RT without the Desktop)
    Metro only for tablets. This is the future. But make it very competitive. 8″-10″ ARM Tablet that goes head to head with $200 dollar Android tablets. This will keep developers creating Metro Apps and ensure that Metro is not ignored in favor of people reverting back to the desktop. Again this should be a lower cost skew to ensure the cost of entry is affordable.

    [Power Aid] Windows 8 Pro
    The no compromise best of both worlds that is Windows 8 Pro now. Not the biggest market, not understood by everyone, but bridges the 2 worlds together. Used by power users who want both on one device.

    Eventually the Classic World will be replace by Coke Zero as the number one. But this can be a more gradual progression.

    I think all the hard work that went into windows 8 can be better realized by having 3 different packages to address 3 different markets and accommodate the differences for how people accept change. They will all get to the touch based future, but not at the same time.

    Joe Smoe

    May 13, 2013 at 10:41 am

  12. Hi,
    the 1th developer preview was on the right track. It has an option to disable all the new stuff.
    Why was this removed ?
    There is a chance to learn new things, but not in that forcible way.
    Give users an option. In all other windows version was an option to disable new stuff.

    What do you think, if an car maker will replace the wheel with an joystick in all new cars ? God idea ?
    And the brake pedal with an microphone. You must now cry out “braaaaake” !

    BTW: Internet Explorer 8 GUI was good so far. But, this was replaced with a bad one since IE9.
    I still don’t like the combination of address and search bar into one. And, I want to move the favorites star to the left. I’am right handed. The RSS-Button is only visible at the large useless “command bar” an so on.

    Trust me: No one need a touch screen on a working business PC.
    No one needs such “full screen apps” on a desktop PC with mouse and keyboard.
    Touch is only useful for special usage and for entertainment (on mobile devices).
    Simply, build to versions of Windows. One for mobile devices and one for desktop.
    Hey, I never want android on my desktop PC.

    You want to sell new apps with DRM ? No problem. Take a look at Steam.


    May 13, 2013 at 10:11 am

  13. Tablet and phone operating systems are kept separate from desktop operating systems because the two interfaces serve different markets.

    Since you at MS were looking at creating a market for Wintel devices as well, i can see the need to mix x86 with touch. However, the method was crazy.

    A better way might have been this:

    1) Whatever under-the-hood tweaks Win 8 provides over 7 (which aren’t many) should have been provided as Win 7 SP2.

    2) Metro should have been purely optional for touchscreen devices. Could have released it as Win 7 with Tiles or something, or simply made Live Tiles a part of SP2. During install, it runs to see if a touchscreen is present or not, and uses metro accordingly.

    3) The Start Menu and boot to desktop would obviously remain unchanged, because it would still be windows 7.

    4) Windows Phone and WindowsRT could have existed with an ‘8’. Honestly, you could have skipped RT entirely and stuck to x86 tablets. That way, developers could be familiar with x86 and regular windows and make Live Tile apps as a supplement to their standard applications.

    5) So Windows Phone 8. I use a Lumia 620, and i can tell you WP8 is a bit of a mess. For a long, long list of reasons. In short, what Windows was to desktop, Android is to mobile. In fact even iOS seems more open than WP8 at times, though it probably isn’t.

    6) Windows 8 would have kept the Windows 7 UI, it would integrate WinFS, full UI hardware acceleration, simpler SKUs (regular, pro, enterprise), kept Media center or integrated it with live tiles (and kept it optional), supported the Xbox/360/Infinity controllers while in media center/live tile mode, helped make the PC the central server/workstation of the home. It would have implemented TSX, AVX, other advanced instruction sets and technology, NOT USED SECURE BOOT, and in general built upon Win 7 SP2. Perhaps included DX12, or kept DX11.1 while moving to OpenGL and OpenCL. Oh yeah, it would support all Xbox/360 titles (including Halo, GoW).

    It could have been so many things, and it could have come in 2015. There was no real hurry on the PC side. PC sales were declining because most 10-year old PCs are good enough, and a lot of people were slowly moving to the assembles/custom PC market, instead of getting ripped of by OEMs. New console generation would have fixed that.

    OEMs on the other hand, continued to be overpriced, provide bad touchpads and inferior screens, lack of customisation, etc.

    Component sales have still been up, Intel, Nvida, AMD, Asus, MSI and others have still returned profits and grown, Windows 7 has continued to sell…Windows 8 in its current for wasn’t required right now. Windows 7 was only three years old when it launched. People are still on XP.

    Other issues:

    1) Isolated File Storage? Seriously? Is that the future of Windows Explorer? That’s horrible.

    2) Developers, developers, developers. Right? So Win 8 has 3-4% of the PC market share. WP8 and WindowsRT have even less, perhaps. Yet it’s a great idea to tie their development to each other?

    3) Why is it impossible to access the Windows Store from Windows 8/RT/Phone 8? I can browse Apple’s and Google’s app store without requiring their platforms. Only way i can check whether a particular ecosystem has the stuff i need. Who’s going to buy first and then leave app support to fate?

    4) Why does Explorer now have a ribbon that hides things that were in front of you with Windows 7?

    5) ModernMix by Stardock, look it up. Seriously, third parties saved Windows 8. Yet MS remains defiant and arrogant, and says here, take your start button back, but we won’t give you the menu.

    Do you catch my drift? There’s a reason cmd.exe is still there, there’s a reason that DOSBox exists: they’re useful, some older stuff is still in use today, and they’re needed. “Progress” doesn’t mean being unusable, confusing, etc.

    MS could have so easily done both, been progressive and usable. You at MS seem to be too busy trying to be Apple. But don’t you get it? Apple never had much of the PC market BECAUSE it was closed. It lost the global mobile market to Android BECAUSE it was closed.

    Office 365 is only viable in the first world. Yet now MS wants to make that the main thing. I can buy a 3-PC Office 2010 license for the cost of a single 2013 license. How does that make sense? Why would you do that?

    And it’s been like that forever, with everything. Halo and GoW could have been PC exclusives, the Xbox could have been PC-compatible much earlier than this generation…MS could have made extremely optimized PC games…i mean, MS loves shooting itself in the foot.

    Like the Courier. Why isn’t it out? It was a lovely concept. But no. Flat tiles that fill an entire 24″ monitor.

    And what’s with the colour scheme? Windows 7 was the prettiest Windows ever…and now we’re going back to the Windows 3.1 days with solid monotonous colours on everything.

    I really can’t believe an entire Corporation like MS failed to get this right. It’s all about the $$$, reason be damned. You’re not called M$ for nothing, i guess.

    MS needs Bill Gates again. That man was da bomb.

    p.s. Instead of dumbing down computers, as this mobile generation seems bent on doing, we should be trying to empower more people to use computers more efficiently and effectively. Average consumers only check their email and use Word and PowerPoint because they haven’t been shown how to use their computer fully.

    /end rant.


    May 13, 2013 at 9:18 am

  14. Excerpts from Extremetech:

    Windows 8, the fat fruit of more than three years of last-gasp labor to produce an operating system that can ensure Microsoft’s continued relevancy in a touch-oriented world. With PC sales stalled, and smartphones and tablets on target to outsell PCs in the next few years, Windows 8 must succeed.

    Microsoft chose the easy way out: It developed a fantastic touch-first interface — the Metro Start screen, WinRT — and slapped it on top of an updated version of Windows 7. You can see the Microsoft boardroom now: “We can have the best of both worlds!” says Steven Sinofsky. “A desktop UI to keep our current customers and stockholders happy, and a tablet UI that will crush Apple and Google.”

    As consumers who actually have to interact with this crazy, cross-paradigm hodgepodge of an interface, the utter ludicrousness of this decision is plain to see. For developers and specialists, though, the problem is far worse.

    It might have sounded like a good idea in the boardroom, but by shipping an operating system with an identity crisis Microsoft has put itself in an almost untenable position. Barring a miraculous intervention by third-party app developers, Windows 8 looks like it will be a jack of all trades, but master of none. On mobile, iOS and Android’s ecosystems will prevail; on desktop, Windows 7 will be hard to supplant.

    In one fell swoop, Microsoft was praying that it could stitch up the mobile and desktop platforms into one neat little package; instead, I fear that Microsoft may have blown it all.


    May 13, 2013 at 8:27 am

  15. Dear Steven, Microsoft is so big! Why you cannot keep side by side two operating systems (or just UI), one for desktop and one for tablets?????? And slowly merge the two platforms in time ahead if it turns out advantageous (or maybe never!). The radical change proposed by W8 is fundamentally wrong…


    May 13, 2013 at 8:14 am

  16. Windows 8 could have been a success if it would have been marketed with an option to boot into a Windows 7 style desktop, with start menu, and no stupid hot corners, so that desktop users could still use their computer to do ‘WORK’!!!!!!!!! Having Metro as an option for touch screen tablets and phones, would have been a plus that desktop users would have appreciated when mobile. You blew it big time!!

    Wendy S.

    May 12, 2013 at 5:48 pm

  17. Sorry Steve, but Microsoft had more than enough input from power users who downloaded beta versions of Win 8, to know what their customer base liked and disliked about Win 8. Microsoft in their arrogance and stupidity, decided to ignore the feedback from their core users, and proceeded to try to take over the touch screen market, by forcing Metro upon these loyal customers without any concern as to the problems it would cause them! You got what you deserved!

    Jimmy Vandelft

    May 12, 2013 at 5:32 pm

  18. I am all for new ideas and new directions, trying new things, pushing the envelope and moving forward with ideas and strategies. However, all this must be framed within the very essential task of achieving usability – providing an enjoyable user experience, and an INTUITIVE user experience. I think that one of the main reasons that Apple’s iPhone and iPad are so popular are that anyone from a 5-year old, and I’ll include in that even motor-skill-challenged 5-year or 10-year old kids, to 90 year olds, can sit down with an Apple product and figure out how to use it.

    I am a 53 year old male, and have been using computers for 28 years. I am not a computer science major, but rather have a BA in Communications and Minor in Journalism. The reason I got so excited about using computers and giving up my previous career at the age of 35 to work in an Internet development business, was because of Microsoft’s daring yet intuitive Windows 2 and Windows 3 and on from there. Every version of Windows since 1990 have captured my imagination and excited me about using computers and exploring their potential and horizons. But Windows 8 was and is mystifying, difficult, confusing, annoying, and downright stupid when it comes to being anything close to intuitive or usable. It is just a plain old mess. When i first used a preview beta version in the spring of 2012, I thought “They’ve got to be working on pieces that will enhance the overall product when it’s finished”. Yet, much to my dismay, they delivered this mess of an operating system that is not enjoyable to use on a tablet, and downright angers me to use on a desktop.

    I know that my feelings are not singular, having run into countless stories of frustration and annoyance from other Windows users, most who compare Windows 8 to the debacle that was Windows Vista. Yet, I used Windows Vista, and did not hate it so much – it paved the way for the thoroughly wonderful Windows 7.

    I am a full-time computer user, and manage Unix servers, Windows servers and both Windows and Mac desktops. Using Windows 8 was the first time I had to Google “How do I restart windows 8” or “How do I launch Windows Update”.

    Mr. Sinofsky, there is a distinct difference between progressing and advancing a product and making it so confusing that even long-time fans cry foul and run in the other direction – longing to replace a new Windows 8 OS with Windows 7. Horizontal scrolling — really? Isn’t that why we got larger monitors and started developing websites that were responsive to users’ environments so they wouldn’t have to scroll horizontally? Now you want to make it a feature? Are you high?

    “Disruption” is not just about tossing everything that makes sense aside. It means using your head and REALLY putting your product in front of your real audience when testing it. I get the strong feeling that Microsoft tested Windows 8 on Yes-men and women who drank the Microsoft Kool-aid and were never, ever objective judges to begin with.


    May 12, 2013 at 4:49 pm

  19. Another fake Steve Ballmer response

    Steve Ballmer

    May 12, 2013 at 4:49 pm

  20. Umm. Your signature “Steven Ballmer” rings a bell. If I were a casual reader I might have confused you with the CEO of Microsoft. But as the most cursory research would indicate he invariably goes by Steve and would never sign anything “Steven”.


    May 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm

  21. Thanks for your thoughtful comments Ryan.

    Steven Sinofsky

    May 10, 2013 at 10:21 pm

  22. I’m not sure I understand why people always use “standalone GPS units” as an example of a market that is dying or being disrupted. My wife recently bought a new SUV that came with an 8″ touch screen to control many functions of the vehicle along with being the display for the built-in navigation system. Such a system has two advantages over a standalone GPS unit; the display is significantly larger than most “large” standalone GPS units, and you don’t have to worry about it being stolen from your vehicle. You would think that such a system would be the death knell for standalone GPS units. We will use the built-in navigation system until its map database becomes outdated. At that point we will probably buy a standalone GPS unit. Why? Because for less than the cost of one annual update to the built-in navigation system map database, it is possible to buy a 5″ standalone GPS unit with lifetime traffic alerts and quarterly map updates. In addition, if we want traffic alerts on the built-in navigation system, the annual fee approaches 75% of the cost of the above standalone GPS system.


    May 10, 2013 at 2:26 pm

  23. Interesting points. Regarding people and time, one thing I remind our internal folks about is that things that take time and effort are typically the most valuable in life. Look how long it takes to learn your first language, or how long it takes to learn to read. These endeavors are probably the most time-consuming of our lives, but yet they are the most worthwhile.

    As I wrote to Paul Thurrott: the pacifying move of adding back the Start button seems very much like the UAC pull back on 7 from Vista–and every bit as much a tempest in a teapot. But look how much it silenced the whiners. So it takes a few seconds to discover where to click to get to Start… does that really justify providing some UI affordance? Sure, the argument can be made that not providing it is simply being stubborn, but what it says about people’s *willingness* to adapt and learn is rather sad. After all, what is more important–the first 10 minutes initially spent poking around the product, or the 3-4 years spent using it afterwards?

    Regarding early adopters and influencers, it’s amazing how they color the impressions of others before they even have face time with a product. I would be very curious to see Win8 introduced to two new audience groups–one where they were told that the product may be confusing (and “I” personally don’t like it, but…) and always framed in terms contrast (how different it is than OldOS), and another where the group is told about a product (that “I” love) and how they can accomplish their tasks using the new features. Say what you will about Jobs and Apple’s marketing strategies, but he had the guts/gall simply to *tell people what to think* about their products, rather than let someone else do it for them.


    May 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm

  24. “A good lesson is that usually a head-on alternative will quite often struggle and might even result in missing other disruptive technologies.”

    I more or less begged Steve Ballmer (via email; he/”he” did respond) to make Windows Mobile/Windows Phone the best *business* device out there *while* being a great consumer device. Why storm the heavily-fortified beaches of Apple and Android (consumer-side) when the back door is wide open and a hug awaits (business-/IT-side). At the time, iOS/Android sucked from security and device management standpoints, no MDM solutions existed, and BlackBerry was in a death spiral. The market was ripe for the plucking–and could easily have led to greater *consumer* sales in the long-run as the ecosystem would have received a huge shot in the arm–but the consumer market blinders prevented any sight of the open door. Furthermore, RIM’s MDM (BES) wasn’t really even that good.

    There was plenty of room for disruption, and in reality, it was even low-risk! On the business side, we’re now stuck with a fractured market, MDM solutions that attempt to fill multiple gaps, a much more difficult support situation (on many different levels), and a reticence from one of our biggest vendors (Microsoft) to support not only iOS/Android/BlackBerry, but their *own* product. What a mess!


    May 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

  25. Your Windows 8 plan has failed. You really don’t have any credibility.

    Steven Ballmer

    May 10, 2013 at 10:33 am

  26. Thank you. Much food for thought for someone entrenched in the old and not really seeing the benefits of the new. No matter how hard I try, I can’t envision doing my real work on a small device, which makes it difficult to consider transition. But this does provide perspective :-)

    Cindy Meister

    May 8, 2013 at 11:40 pm

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